David Letterman the Liberal

Retired Late Night Comedian Says He Never Voted for a Republican

David Letterman
Late Show With David Letterman host David Letterman is widely perceived to be a liberal. Frederick M. Brown Collection / Getty Images Entertainment

Retired late-night television host David Letterman was legendary for his quirky sense of humor, his insistence on privacy for his family and personal life, and secrecy over his political beliefs. But make no mistake: Letterman was a liberal despite his opaque position on electoral politics on TV. The Late Show With David Letterman host kept viewers guessing by roasting both conservatives and liberals, but he also said as recently as 2014 that he had never voted for a Republican in his life. Given the paucity of independent candidates on the ballot in races for Congress or the presidency, that means Letterman has voted for Democrats consistently.

Still, Letterman held his political views close to his vest. He did not creates a top 10 list of "reasons to vote Democrat," as a bogus email circulated in 2014 claimed. The few clues the public has about whether Letterman is liberal include his contributions to politicians, which are a matter of public record. Letterman's contributions total about $15,000 since 2008, and that money went to Democratic candidates for Congress.

Letterman has described his political views as being neither liberal nor conservative but independent, and he has claimed he is not registered as either a Republican or Democrat. But critics on the right have as well as his fans on the left have long accepted Letterman as a liberal.

Political Contributions

Letterman has given $9,700 to Democrat Al Franken's campaigns for U.S. Senate, according to Federal Election Commission records. Franken is considered to be among a handful of the most liberal members of his party in the Senate, and consistently votes with Democrats in his chamber. Letterman also contributed the maximum amount allowable under law - $5,400 - to Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth's U.S. Senate campaign in 2015. Letterman also appeared at a fundraiser for Duckworth, of Illinois.

Letterman's Jokes 

When it comes to ridiculing politicians Letterman, like most late-night talk-show hosts, finds humor across partisan lines. But riled conservatives during his relentless mocking of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and came under fire in 2009 for what she claimed was a "sexually perverted comment" toward her 14-year-old daughter.

Letterman told an interview in 2012 that he didn't intend to be partisan or target politicians of either political stripe. "You go where the material takes you. Poor Bill Clinton. No president that I'm aware of got hammered harder than Bill – President Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky situation. We beat up on him. We still use him as a reference," Letterman said in 2012. 

"And then we were desperate. We thought, well this was so easy and then we got George Bush, and within a matter of days we realized our prayers had been answered, he's just as good in terms of material," Letterman said. "So we – it may appear that we have a slant one way or the other, but if a guy drops his dog, or a guy straps his dog to the roof of a car, or if a guy gets a shoe thrown at him, well this is where the material is going to be."

Letterman was also highly critical of FOX News host Bill O'Reilly, who he accused of 60 percent wrong, and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who he referred to as a "bonehead."

Registered Independent?

Letterman has said publicly that he's registered as an independent but acknowledged that he could be confused for a liberal by viewers of the Late Show With David Letterman because he so often ridicules Republican politicians. “I have been guilty of appearing to be playing partisan politics,” Letterman said in May 2012. “However, I’d just like to say, for the record, I am a registered independent.”

Letterman and Barack Obama

President Barack Obama, a Democrat who appeared on Letterman's show, tweeted shortly after Letterman's retirement announcement: "There are more than 10 reasons #DavidLetterman will be missed."