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The National dabbles in politics at Ohio State

Tim Kubick / For The Lantern

If you registered to vote Wednesday on the Oval, there’s a good chance the person filling out your paperwork was not just a member of College Democrats, but a musician from the indie rock band The National.

The band spent the afternoon on Ohio State’s campus before hosting a GottaVote Concert Wednesday at Newport Music Hall as part of President Barack Obama’s GottaVote campaign to encourage young adults to register to vote and cast their vote for Obama. After the show some of the concertgoers and the band watched the first presidential debate at Big Bar, located next to the Newport.

This wasn’t the first time The National dabbled in politics though, having performed at many rallies for President Barack Obama in years past.

“Personally, we feel that the stakes are even higher this (election) than they were last time, in many ways,” said Matt Berninger, the band’s lead singer. “We’re pumped as ever.”

All five members of The National are from Cincinnati. Aaron Dessner, who plays guitar and keyboards in the band, said the band’s Ohio roots have shaped its views on politics.

“I grew up in a neighborhood that was heavily Republican, but growing up, you always felt the significance of Ohio’s going Democrat or Republican in presidential elections – you’re just aware of how important it is,” Dessner said.

Berninger said that although he also grew up around many people with conservative ideologies, he thinks those people might now be feeling differently.

“A lot of the people I grew up with who are very conservative feel a little bit alienated by the current sort of version of the Republican party,” Berninger said. “I think many of them don’t feel represented by the Republican party anymore … so there’s more at stake this time, just with the way the whole political landscape has shifted.”

Dessner said the band has received some negative feedback about its political involvement, such as “hate mail on Facebook.” However, Berninger said the band stands by its endorsement for Obama.

“This is more important than a rock band,” Berninger said. “I know we’ve gotten responses from people (who) don’t like the fact that we’ve taken a position on it, and I don’t actually think artists or musicians necessarily have a responsibility to do that. But in our case, the five of us … talked about it and we were like, ‘Yeah, it’s worth it, for sure.'”

Despite their ideologies, Berninger said the band does not try to incorporate political messages into its music.

“I don’t really want my rock music to be political. I listen to rock music to sort of escape that kind of stuff,” Berninger said. “Even ‘Fake Empire,’ which was our most political song – it wasn’t specifically a partisan song, it was just kind of feeling disenfranchised with Washington and the whole government.”

Berninger said he identifies with the apathy many young people feel about politics because he used to think the same way.

“When I was in high school and college, I listened to rock music and I drank and I studied, but I didn’t care that much about politics,” Berninger said. “I found it sort of irritating and I didn’t think I had any kind of influence on it. So I think just trying to get people to think that it matters to them … you have a huge influence and it’s one vote, but it’s a big deal.”

College students’ involvement in the election is particularly important, Berninger said.

“It’s their world that’s being shaped and it’s their lives being decided right now by, quite frankly, older generations,” Berninger said. “It’s their voice that needs to be heard because they’re the ones who will most benefit or suffer from that.”

As part of GottaVote, The National traveled to Cincinnati Thursday and went to the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University to register students to vote.

Dessner said the band managed to help register nine people during the hour they were on the Oval.

Berninger said they did not keep track of how many students they got to register to vote at OSU, but he did say there is one student who might want to double-check his registration status.

“There’s a guy named Gene, I can’t remember his last name, and I registered him but I forgot to write down his phone number and social security number, so find Gene,” Berninger said.

“Gene: contact your local registrar. I messed up.”

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