Television comics: The good, the bad and the liberal

October 16, 2014, 10:57 AM GMT+0

People generally like the nation's top comics, but the ones seen as politically liberal are the most likely to be regarded unfavorably

Television comedians, whatever their show, tend to be liked – after all, they are funny. But significant numbers of Americans feel negatively towards a few of them. Those are the ones that are most likely to be looked on as liberal in their political views, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll.

Bill Maher has as many detractors as supporters, making him the least liked of the nine television comedians included in the poll. More than one in four view him as very liberal, the highest percentage in the poll

Those who have ever watched his show (49%) also say Maher is liberal, but by 56% to 39%, they have a favorable view of him. Liberals are more likely to watch Maher, as more than half of conservatives have never seen his show.

Maher’s type of political humor seems to set him apart from some other political television comedians. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are just as likely as Maher to be seen as liberals (though less likely to be called very liberal). But twice as many Americans have favorable as unfavorable views of each of them.

Like Maher’s audience, viewers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report skew younger and more liberal. Only a third of those under 45 have never seen those shows, and fewer than one in four liberals have never watched them. Most conservatives have never seen either of those shows.

So which comedians do viewers like the best? The best favorable/unfavorable results are for Jimmy Fallon. Nearly two thirds have a favorable view of him, while only 18% are unfavorable. A majority of Republicans are favorable towards Fallon – something definitely not the case when Republicans judge Stewart, Colbert or Maher.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is also one of the most-watched of the shows asked about. More than six in ten adults have watched at least a few times, although fewer than one in ten admit they watch most episodes (though that percentage is still higher than for the other programs).

More people still see Fallon as liberal than say he is either moderate or conservative, and that is true for both liberals and conservatives. However, about half of those who identify themselves as moderates say that is exactly what Fallon is.

Jimmy Kimmel is also popular: nearly three times as many Americans have a favorable view of him as view him unfavorably. Half of conservatives and more than half of Republicans are also favorable. Nearly as many say Kimmel is a moderate as think he is a liberal.

The late night comedy host who has been seen by the most people is – no surprise -- David Letterman, who has been a fixture on late night television for more than 30 years. But nearly a third of the country doesn’t like him – more than say that about any of the others except Bill Maher (and almost as many are negative towards Conan O’Brien). Nearly half of Republicans don’t like Letterman, a contrast with his current late night competition, Jimmy Fallon.

Letterman is seen as a liberal by 31%, although that is not quite as many as see his replacement, Colbert, that way.

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.