Eastwood registered as a Republican in order to vote for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and he passively supported Richard Nixon's 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns. He later criticized Nixon's handling of the Vietnam War and his morality during Watergate. He usually describes himself as a libertarian in interviews and in the spring of 1999, he told Premiere magazine that "I guess I was a social liberal and a fiscal conservative before it became fashionable." He told USA Weekend in 2004, "I don't see myself as conservative, but I'm not ultra-leftist. ... I like the libertarian view, which is to leave everyone alone. Even as a kid, I was annoyed by people who wanted to tell everyone how to live." In 2009, Eastwood said that he was now a registered Libertarian.
At times, he has supported Democrats in California, such as the liberal and environmentally concerned Representative Sam Farr in 2002. Eastwood contributed $1,000 to Farr's successful re-election campaign that year and on May 23, 2003, he hosted a $5,000-per-ticket fundraiser for California's Democratic governor, Gray Davis. Later that year, Eastwood offered to film a commercial in support of the embattled governor, and in 2001, the star visited Davis' office to support an alternative energy bill written by another Democrat, California State assemblyman Fred Keeley.
In general, Eastwood has favored less governmental interference in both the private economy and the private lives of individuals. He has disapproved of a reliance on welfare, feeling that the government should help citizens make something of themselves via education and incentives. He has, however, approved of unemployment insurance, bail-outs for homeowners saddled with unaffordable mortgages, environmental conservation, land preservation, alternative energy incentives, and gun control measures such as California's Brady Bill. A longtime liberal on civil rights, Eastwood has stated that he has always been pro-choice on abortion. He has endorsed the notion of allowing gays to marry,("From a libertarian point of view, you would say, 'Yeah? So what?' You have to believe in total equality. People should be able to be what they want to be and do what they want – as long as they're not harming people.") and he contributed to groups supporting the Equal Rights Amendment for women. In an interview with GQ magazine, Eastwood criticized the Republican Party for its stance on gay marriage, saying "These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage? I don’t give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of. They go on and on with all this bullshit about ‘sanctity’ — don’t give me that sanctity crap! Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want."
Eastwood disapproved of America's wars in Korea (1950–1953), Vietnam (1964–1975), Afghanistan (2001-), and Iraq (2003–2011), believing that the United States should not be overly militaristic or play the role of global policeman. He considers himself too individualistic to be either right-wing or left-wing, and has described himself as a "political nothing" and a "moderate".
Eastwood has long been an avowed supporter of gun control, stating, "I've always supported a certain amount of gun control. I think it's very important that guns don't get in the wrong hands; It's very important to keep them out of the hands of felons or anyone who might be crazy with it." In 1995, Eastwood questioned the purpose of assault weapons. Larry King, the famous television host and newspaper columnist, wrote in the May 22, 1995, edition of USA Today that "My interview with Eastwood will air on 'Larry King Weekend' ... I asked him his thoughts on the NRA and gun control and he said that while people think of him as pro-gun, he has always been in favor of controls. 'Why would anyone need or want an assault weapon?' he said."
During the 2008 United States Presidential Election, Eastwood stated that he would be voting for John McCain for President; he has known McCain since 1973. Upon the election of Barack Obama, Eastwood stated "Obama is my president now and I am going to be wishing him the very best because it is what is best for all of us."
In August 2010, Eastwood wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, George Osborne, to protest the decision to close the UK Film Council. Eastwood warned that the closure could result in fewer foreign production companies choosing to work in the UK.
In 1973, Eastwood told the late film critic Gene Siskel, "No, I don't believe in God." Nearly four decades later while promoting his film, Hereafter (2010), Eastwood stated that "I was always respectful of people who were deeply religious because I always felt that if they gave themselves to it, then it had to be important to them. But if you can go through life without it, that’s OK, too. It’s whatever suits you. I do believe in self-help. I’m not a New Age person but I do believe in meditation, and for that reason I’ve always liked the Buddhist religion. When I’ve been to Japan I’ve been to Buddhist temples and meditated and I found that rewarding." As much as anything, Eastwood has found spirituality in nature (as suggested by his 1985 Western, Pale Rider), stating that "I was born during the Depression and I was brought up with no specific church. We moved every four or five months during the first 14 years of my life, so I was sent to a different church depending on wherever we lived. Most of them were Protestant, but I went to other churches because my parents wanted me to try to figure out things for myself. They always said, ‘I just want to expose you to some religious order and see if that’s something you like’. So although my religious training was not really specific, I do feel spiritual things. If I stand on the side of the Grand Canyon and look down, it moves me in some way."
"Of course, it would be wonderful to talk with my parents again, who are, of course, deceased. It makes the idea of death much less scary. But then again, if you think that nothing happens after you die, maybe it makes you live life better. Maybe you’re supposed to do the best you can by the gift you’re given of life and that alone"
In 2013, Eastwood was a signatory to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage during the Hollingsworth v. Perry case.
Eastwood's views on war and politics were called into question and misjudged again with the release of his 2014 movie American Sniper, which was a #1 hit at the box office making over $90 million its opening weekend, the highest debut ever for an Eastwood film. The film was met with both strong critical praise and heavy criticism. Some Democrats in the media were labeling the film Republican propaganda, that Eastwood was a warmonger. Republicans however were calling it a Pro-War, Pro-Republican film; Eastwood responded by saying it was a "stupid analysis" and that the movie had nothing to do with political parties. Due to his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, some see him as a warmonger or right-wing poster boy, however, Eastwood said he has always opposed war, and is a pragmatic Libertarian rather than a red-meat Republican. Eastwood further explained his anti-war stance by saying "I was a child growing up during World War II. That was supposed to be the one to end all wars. And four years later, I was standing at the draft board being drafted during the Korean conflict, and then after that there was Vietnam, and it goes on and on forever . . . I just wonder . . . does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t. So each time we get in these conflicts, it deserves a lot of thought before we go wading in or wading out. Going in or coming out. It needs a better thought process, I think."
Eastwood made a successful foray into elected politics. He won election as mayor in April 1986 of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California (population 4,000), a wealthy small town and artists' community on the Monterey Peninsula. He served one term. A focal point of Eastwood's campaign was to overturn the "ice cream cone law," an ordinance that restricted the sale of fast-food, including ice cream cones. When Eastwood won election, President Ronald Reagan telephoned and joked, "What's an actor who once appeared with a monkey in a movie doing in politics?", referring to Eastwood's role in Every Which Way But Loose and Reagan's Bedtime for Bonzo. During Eastwood's two-year tenure, he still managed to direct and produce Heartbreak Ridge (in which he also starred) and Bird, for which he received one of his first major awards for filmmaking, a Golden Globe for Best Director.
In 2001, he was appointed to the California State Park and Recreation Commission by Governor Gray Davis. He was reappointed in 2004 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he supported in the elections of 2003 and 2006 (although Eastwood disapproved of the recall of Davis in 2003).
Eastwood, the vice chairman of the commission, and commission chairman, Bobby Shriver, Schwarzenegger's brother-in-law, led a California State Park and Recreation Commission panel in its unanimous opposition in 2005 to a six-lane 16-mile (26 km) extension of California State Route 241, a toll road that would cut through San Onofre State Beach, one of Southern California's most cherished surfing beaches. Eastwood and Shriver supported a 2006 lawsuit to block the toll road and urged the California Coastal Commission to reject the project, which it did, in February 2008.
When Eastwood and Shriver were not reappointed to the commission in March 2008 when their terms expired, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) asked for a legislative investigation into the decision. According to the NRDC and The New Republic, Eastwood and Shriver were not reappointed because they had opposed the extension of California State Route 241 that would cut through the San Onofre State Beach. The extension was supported by Governor Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger appointed Alice Huffman and Lindy DeKoven to replace Eastwood and Shriver. A press release gave no reason for the change.
Governor Schwarzenegger appointed Eastwood (along with actor and director Danny DeVito, actor and director Bill Duke, producer Tom Werner, and producer and director Lili Zanuck) to the California Film Commission in April 2004.
When asked his opinion of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates in February 2012, Eastwood replied that Texas Representative Ron Paul was "as good as anybody else" in the running, but would wait for some time to decide on a candidate after "listening to all that crap on television." On August 4, 2012, Eastwood endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
At the 2012 Republican National Convention, the Romney campaign presented Eastwood as the highly anticipated "mystery speaker". In the final hour of the convention, he addressed an empty chair representing President Barack Obama. Eastwood's speech lasted about 12 minutes, and was largely improvisational. At one point, Eastwood said: "What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. He can't do that to himself." Eastwood's remarks were well-received within the convention hall. They received criticism outside of it. Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker described the speech as "that one moment, which I cringed about". Eastwood's speech gave rise to an Internet meme called "Eastwooding", with pictures of people pointing at empty chairs.
Several months later, following the election, Eastwood revealed to CNBC anchor Becky Quick that his infamous "empty chair" skit had been inspired by a Neil Diamond song ("I Am... I Said") that had come over the radio in his Tampa hotel room and that included a lyric about an empty chair not hearing the singer's laments. Eastwood said that the skit was made up on the spot right before he gave it and that if he could, he would say something different if he could have a do-over “My only message was [that] I wanted people to take the idolizing factor out of every contestant out there. Just look at the work, look at the background, and then make a judgment on that. I was just trying to say that, and did it in kind of a roundabout way which took a lot more time, I suppose, than they would have liked.” I’d probably say something else but I’d try to get the same message across so that people don’t have to kiss up to politicians. No matter what party they’re in, you should evaluate their work and make your judgments accordingly. That’s the way to do it in life and every other subject, but sometimes in America we get gaga, we look at the wrong values.”
In an August 2016 interview with Esquire, Eastwood again responded to the convention chair speech saying that what troubles him the most was the "silly thing at the Republican convention, talking to the chair". Eastwood went on to say "it was silly at the time, but I was standing backstage and I'm hearing everybody say the same thing: "Oh, this guy's a great guy." Great, he's a great guy. I've got to say something more. And so I'm listening to an old Neil Diamond thing and he's going, "And no one heard at all / Not even the chair." And I'm thinking, That's Obama. He doesn't go to work. He doesn't go down to Congress and make a deal. What the hell's he doing sitting in the White House? If I were in that job, I'd get down there and make a deal. Sure, Congress are lazy bastards, but so what? You're the top guy. You're the president of the company. It's your responsibility to make sure everybody does well. It's the same with every company in this country, whether it's a two-man company or a two-hundred-man company… . And that's the pussy generation—nobody wants to work."
Eastwood also discussed Donald Trump and further elaborated on his "pussy generation" comments, lamenting "all these people that say, 'Oh, you can't do that, and you can't do this, and you can't say that.' I guess it's just the times." Eastwood also said that while he was not endorsing Donald Trump, he did see where he was coming from at times, even though the filmmaker stated that the candidate has said dumb things. "What Trump is onto is he's just saying what's on his mind. And sometimes it's not so good. And sometimes it's … I mean, I can understand where he's coming from, but I don't always agree with it. I haven't endorsed anybody. I haven't talked to Trump. I haven't talked to anybody. You know, he's a racist now because he's talked about this judge. And yeah, it's a dumb thing to say. I mean, to predicate your opinion on the fact that the guy was born to Mexican parents or something. He's said a lot of dumb things. So have all of them. Both sides. But everybody—the press and everybody's going, 'Oh, well, that's racist," and they're making a big hoodoo out of it. Just fucking get over it. It's a sad time in history.'" Eastwood also said, when asked if he was still a Libertarian, that he was a little bit of everything and that he wants this generation to get to work and be more understanding instead of calling people names. "Kick ass and take names," Eastwood said. When asked which candidate he would prefer between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Eastwood replied, "That's a tough one, isn't it? I'd have to go for Trump … you know, 'cause she's declared that she's gonna follow in Obama's footsteps. There's been just too much funny business on both sides of the aisle. She's made a lot of dough out of being a politician. I gave up dough to be a politician. I'm sure that Ronald Reagan gave up dough to be a politician.
However, in a subsequent interview with the Los Angeles Times that appeared a month later, Eastwood suggested that he would not necessarily vote for Trump and instead appeared agnostic regarding the 2016 presidential election. The Times' Rebecca Keegan asked, "So when you say you’re not on either side of the aisle, does that mean you’re not voting for Trump?" Eastwood replied, "I’m totally an enigma. I’m just astounded. I hate to pick up the paper. I think both individuals and both parties backing the individuals have a certain degree of insanity."
Eastwood had declared in that interview, "I’m not on either side of the aisle. I think most Americans are going, 'What the ... ? Is this all we can do?' ... When there were 17 people on the stage [in the early GOP debates], I thought, well, there are three or four people up there I could see voting for. They seem pretty good. I had a few …. And then I thought, what the hell happened?"
And in a red carpet interview with Extra on September 8, 2016, when asked about supposedly supporting Trump, Eastwood replied, "You know, I haven't supported anybody, really," and suggested that Trump and Clinton constituted a modern-day Abbott & Costello, referring to the bumbling comedians of the 1940s and early 1950s.