Many Americans Say 'Saturday Night Live' Is Now "Too Political," Poll Finds

Matt Damon as Judge Brett Kavanaugh -SNL-Publicity Still-H 2019
Will Heath/NBC

Of the politicians that Americans most want to see guest on the series, Barack Obama topped the list, followed by Donald Trump, a THR/Morning Consult survey finds.

During NBC's Saturday Night Live premiere on Sept. 29, Matt Damon led a 13-minute cold open as Brett Kavanaugh, portraying the then-embattled justice as blustery and weepy days before he was confirmed by the Senate to the top court in a contentious vote. The episode, which also featured a pro-Trump speech by Kanye West, nabbed 6.96 million total viewers, a high for the show's season so far. 

The 44th season of SNL, as usual, frequently lampoons Beltway topics. This season included Ben Stiller's March 2 recreation of Trump fixer Michael Cohen's Senate testimony (6.86 million total viewers for the episode), Alec Baldwin's Feb. 16 version of Trump's border wall plea (6.19 million viewers) and a Feb. 9 send-up of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's blackface controversy (6.83 million viewers). 

But there's a large minority of Americans who view the show as too political, a new Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll finds. Among respondents, 39 percent agreed with the sentiment that the series "has gotten too political," while 30 percent disagree. 

Broken down by party affiliation, 60 percent of Democrats polled in the survey said that they don't mind the political leaning of SNL, while 52 percent of Republicans dislike the slant of the series when it delves into politics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, more Americans view Saturday Night Live as left-leaning show than politically neutral. About 48 percent said the series is "more liberal" politically, while only 5 percent describe the show as "more conservative," and 10 percent said SNL has "no political lean." (The poll was conducted among a nationally representative sample of 2,201 adults from March 7 to 10.)

"Viewers agree with President Trump that Saturday Night Live has a liberal bias but are divided on whether the program has too many political skits," said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president. "Notably, 37 percent of Americans say the program has the right amount of politics in its sketches, while 31 percent say it has too much and 4 percent say too little. However, the results vary across partisan lines. Over half of Republicans (55 percent) say the program incorporates too much politics; only 14 percent of Democrats say the same."

Of the politicians that Americans most want to see guest on SNL, Barack Obama topped the list, followed by Donald Trump. Among presidential contenders, about 32 percent of respondents said they'd like to see Joe Biden guest on the series, compared with Sen. Bernie Sanders (30 percent), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (22 percent), Sen. Kamala Harris (21 percent) and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke (20 percent).

Asked whether the series "is making political statements" in its sketches, 68 percent of Americans responded affirmatively, while only 9 percent said the show wasn't trying to make a political point.

Respondents were also evenly mixed on whether they like to see political guest hosts or appearances on SNL — both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump made appearances in 2015, a year before the presidential election. About 32 percent of Americans said they think the show is "more entertaining" with a political guest host, while 37 percent think otherwise. 

In a similar vein, Americans are split on whether individual sketches should be based on relevant headlines about the White House or Congress. Some 37 percent of respondents said that the show "is more entertaining when politics is incorporated into sketches," while 35 disagree that the series is better when it focuses on political news.  

Does an appearance on SNL actually help a candidate? While appearing on the broadcast can raise a profile of a politician, respondents were mixed on whether a guest spot in a sketch improves a candidate's likability. Some 32 percent said they would have a "more favorable impression" of a politician who appeared in an sketch, while 29 percent said they would view the politician less favorably. 

Asked what is "more likely to make you watch late-night shows," about 41 percent of respondents replied "jokes that are not political," while 22 percent said "jokes about Republicans," and just 6 percent said "jokes about Democrats."