Tickets to hear conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro sold out in under two minutes, according to Kate Westa, vice president of the University of Michigan’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom.
Shapiro is the Editor in Chief of the conservative news and opinion website The Daily Wire and hosts his own conservative podcast, The Ben Shapiro Show. YAF, a student organization advocating conservative principles, will be hosting Shapiro on March 12 in Rackham Auditorium. Previous speakers hosted by YAF this year were conservative commentators Steven Crowder and Michael Knowles.
According to Westa, 617 of 1060 tickets sold were registered under University student emails. Tickets reserved for University students sold out in less than two minutes and tickets for the public sold out in less than 60 seconds with more than 4,200 people on the waitlist, Westa said in an email statement.
Westa attributed the high demand for student tickets to what she believes is a desire among the student body for more conservative speakers.
“Clearly, these conservative voices are in high demand on campus,” Westa said in the email. “I think because so few conservatives are brought to speak on campus, students are taking full advantage of these opportunities and are really craving intellectual diversity.”
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an email statement 13 percent of first-year students self-reported as conservative and far right in a voluntary survey over summer orientation. In the 2018 orientation, 4,833 student took the survey, 32 percent reported they identified as “middle of the road,” 43 percent were “liberal” and 13 percent did not select an option.
LSA sophomore Taylor Smith said she got tickets to hear Shapiro in order to expose herself to more alternative political views.
“I think he’s a very interesting speaker,” Smith said. “I definitely don’t agree with everything he says, but I still think it’s a great opportunity to go and hear different viewpoints than my own.”
Smith said she identifies as a moderate and wants to take advantage of an opportunity to hear from a conservative speaker.
“I definitely identify as a moderate,” Smith said. “It can go either way depending on the issue. I grew up being surrounded by tons of different opinions across the political spectrum. So it’s definitely given me appreciation for all views. And that’s why I want to go to this. I’ve never really heard a conservative speaker come and talk.”
Smith explained the demand to hear Shapiro could be connected to his strong media presence and effective marketing of the event by YAF.
“I think because he’s a well known speaker, he captures the media attention from both sides of the political aisle, a lot,” Smith said. “It’s also not someone you see a lot at Michigan. I know YAF is bringing him and they did a lot a lot of marketing prior to this through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. That’s how I originally heard about it. So I think that definitely had a large impact (on ticket sales) and YAF chapter in general was also marketing.”
LSA freshman Chiren Moore, who identifies politically as moderate leaning towards conservative, said students could be eager to hear Shapiro because of an entertainment value he brings to his talks. Moore mentioned Shapiro is known for quick remarks in question and answer portions of speeches, which have thousands of views on his YouTube channel with almost 600,000 subscribers.
“I think he’s a pretty controversial figure in that people post videos of him online and just the way he speaks, he has very quick comebacks and stuff like that,” Moore said. “So I think a lot of people want to go see that because he’s entertaining … I think there are a lot of people that agree with him more than people expect … But I think a lot of people are going just to see what happens.”
Moore thinks tickets sold out quickly for Shapiro because they were free.
“They (the tickets) were free,” Moore said. “So I think that’s a big reason why a lot of people got them — cause you don’t have to pay for them. And I wanted to go because I’ve been listening to him for a while.”
Moore said Shapiro’s appearance on campus offers curious college students an opportunity to hear a conservative speaker in attempts to shape their own political views.
“I think the reason a lot of people wanted to go, especially college students, is because in college you’re exposed to so many new ideas and it’s a really formative time,” Moore said. “Because of a lot of these students are just now getting to vote … and they’re forming their own political ideas.”
Not everyone is as excited about Shapiro’s visit, though. On Feb. 22, Ann Arbor residents and University students gathered to discuss measures against Shapiro’s impending visit and prepare the logistics for a protest against the event.
LSA freshman Sophie Kehrig also expressed concern regarding the visit. They said they worry bringing Ben Shapiro to campus will spread harmful sentiments among college students. They referred to Shapiro’s past statements that minority groups are not "victims in American society" and said people who identify as transgender have “a mental condition in which one believes he or she is of the opposite sex.”
“I think he would be harmful because he does this thing where he tries to play like he’s respectable or logical and then will undermine any and all other identities different from his,” Kehrig said. “And his whole trying to take down this idea of identity politics and his idea that there’s a hierarchy of victimhood and that being a really negative thing… taking down other people’s experiences and identities, for what reason I’m never exactly sure, I think is really devise and unproductive. And if you’re saying you want everybody to be heard, this is a man that speaks to the fact that he doesn't believe everyone’s voice and or narrative deserves to be taken seriously.”
Kehrig said they recognize the need to engage in a multitude of conversations with people who hold varying opinions, but believes Shapiro’s talk on campus would more of a negative than positive impact.
“I understand the necessity of needing a multitude of opinions and identities and why that’s important even if you don’t agree with it,” Kehrig said. “Not much can get done in an echochamber and I’m cognizant of that. But at the same time there comes a certain point where there is more harm done than good. And I feel like when the harm outweighs the good in a situation like this I think it’s time to reevaluate.”
The University’s chapter of College Democrats declined to comment on the event. The University’s chapter of College Republicans did not respond in time for publication.
Westa said in an email statement YAF strives to educate University students on conservative values, and hosting Shapiro will offer students a new political perspective.
“Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) believes in individual freedom, limited government, free markets, and traditional values,” Westa said in the email. “Our goal on campus is to educate students on conservative values they otherwise wouldn't be exposed to at school. I can’t think of a better way of doing this than to bring the top conservative speaker of our day to the University of Michigan.”