The ghost of Prince William County

It's all about race. And age.

Religion? Uh, surely that's not a factor worth exploring.

That's my interpretation of a front-page New York Times story today that focuses on the changing demographics in Prince William County, Va., and their impact on Tuesday's presidential election:

A couple of decades ago, Prince William County was one of the mostly white, somewhat rural, far-flung suburbs where Republican candidates went to accumulate the votes to win elections in Virginia.

Since then, Prince William has been transformed. Open tracts have given way to town houses and gated developments, as the county — about a half-hour south of Washington — has risen to have the seventh-highest household income in the country and has become the first county in Virginia where minorities make up more than half the population.

If Prince William looks like the future of the country, Democrats have so far developed a much more successful strategy of appealing to that future. On Tuesday, President Obama beat Mitt Romney by almost 15 percentage points in Prince William, nearly doubling George W. Bush’s margin over Al Gore in 2000, helping Mr. Obama to a surprisingly large victory in Virginia.

At GetReligion, our mantra is that "holy ghosts" all too often haunt mainstream news stories. We see these ghosts in stories where religion seems to be a major theme, yet somehow religion shows up nowhere in the text. Welcome to the ghost of Prince William County.

As Mollie wisely pointed out already today, reporters should proceed with caution when trying to make sense of the reasons people voted the way they did — and the religious motivations, if any, behind their choices. At the same time, it seems extremely strange for the Times to attempt to assess Prince William County's voting patterns with no acknowledgment of the religion question.

For example, consider this paragraph:

The Republican Party “needs messages and policies that appeal to a broader audience,” said Mark McKinnon, a former strategist for George W. Bush. “This election proved that trying to expand a shrinking base ain’t going to cut it. It’s time to put some compassion back in conservatism. The party needs more tolerance, more diversity and a deeper appreciation for the concerns of the middle class.”

Who is that "shrinking base?" Would it include evangelicals for whom issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage are closely tied to their religious beliefs? Could the rise of the "nones" be a factor?

Regrettably, the Times doesn't bother to address such questions.

Diversity image via Shutterstock

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