Navigating the Guide

In this guide, you will learn to use

ICPSR logo

Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research


Tips for using this Guide-On-The-Side:

  • This left frame contains the guide steps, and on the right is the live ICPSR database. 
  • Underlined text when clicked will either display a definition of term(s) or link to additional resources.
  • Use the red arrows below to move through the guide.

GSU Library - Research Data Services logo

Learning Goals of Guide

After completing this guide, you will be able to:


  • Create and login with a MyData Account to be able to download ICPSR datasets from both on and off campus.
  • Use key search and browse features to drill down to datasets appropriate for your research or teaching purposes.
  • Use key parts of an ICPSR dataset record to identify and download datasets.
  • Understand the different access options to ICPSR datasets (public use v. restricted use).


The guide is interactive and you will be able to use ICPSR within the screen to the right.


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ICPSR logoInter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research


GSU affiliates have full direct access to the ICPSR data archive of 9,000+ datasets.


ICPSR for Research:


  • Students can use ICPSR datasets for their thesis and dissertation projects -- save time and money by not collecting new data but instead using existing data for new analyses.
  • Faculty can use ICPSR datasets for their own original research projects for the same reasons above.


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ICPSR logo
Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
ICPSR for Teaching/Learning:
  • Use ICPSR datasets to introduce students to data analysis techniques -- check out the Teaching & Learning with ICPSR page for various teaching-with-data resources.
  • Many ICPSR datasets have online analysis capabilities -- ideal for in-class teaching or out-of-class exercises requiring students to do basic data analysis without the barrier of learning complex statistical software.
  • Checkout the Resources for Students page -- includes guides for reading journal articles and interpreting SPSS output, a link to the ICPSR YouTube tutorials channel, and information about ICPSR's Student Research Paper Competition.


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ICPSR logoInter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
GSU's ICPSR membership affords other benefits to GSU affiliates.
ICPSR for Data-Sharing:
  • GSU researchers can deposit data with ICPSR to share for replication and re-use by other researchers -- data-sharing is increasingly required by grant funding agencies, and ICPSR is a longstanding and respected data archive for such purposes.


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ICPSR logo
Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
ICPSR for Research Training:

Access ICPSR

In this guide you'll see ICPSR at the right.


When not using this guide, you must access the ICPSR database as follows:


  1. Go to the GSU University Library's homepage (
  2. In the Databases by Name A-Z list area, click the letter I. 
  3. At the next screen scroll to and click the ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) link.
  4. If you're off campus, you'll be prompted to login with your CampusID and password and then will be sent to the ICPSR homepage.
GSU Homepage > Databases by Name A-Z list

Create a MyData Account

To download datasets from ICPSR you must create a MyData account within ICPSR:


  1. Create your MyData account while *ON CAMPUS* -- any GSU campus will work.
  2. On the ICPSR homepage, click the Log In/Create Account link (at top right, under the Search button).
  3. If a pop-up window appears, click the Access Site Normally button in that window.
  4. Scroll to and click the Create Account button -- do *NOT* use the Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, or ORCID options.
  5. At next screen create your account *using your GSU email*.
  6. Log in to your new MyData account.

NOTE: Log in to your MyData account *ON CAMPUS* at least once every 6 months for it to remain validated. 

Find & Download Datasets

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Let's begin by gaining familiarity with the following:


  • Results -- how to sort and filter your results to fit your needs.
  • Dataset record -- what information is given about a dataset in the dataset record to help you decide whether it fits your needs.
  • Downloading datasets -- how to download public-use data and documentation files.


Find & Download Datasets

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Let's browse for datasets by Topics:


  1. On the ICPSR homepage, at the top left click the FIND DATA dropdown menu and then click FIND DATA.
  2. Look for the Browse area (under the search field, middle of the page, toward the left).
  3. Click the Topics link in the Browse options.
ICPSR Browse Options

Find & Download Datasets

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The ICPSR folks have grouped datasets into various topics. Each "topic classification" graphic has two options for exploring:
  • Click the View More button to list sub-topic areas, and click a specific sub-topic to get results for that sub-topic, or
  • Click the linked topic name to get results for the entire topic area.
Let's explore a topic area:
  1. Scroll to the Mass Political Behavior and Attitudes topic.
  2. Click the View More button to see the various sub-topics in this topic area.
  3. Click the main Mass Political Behavior and Attitudes link to see all datasets classified with this topic.

Find & Download Datasets

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The Search Results display the dataset records classified at this topic, sorted alphabetically.
Each dataset record has the Study Title, the Investigator name(s), and a unique ICPSR ID number for that dataset.
Down the left side of the results are several Filters for narrowing results -- of particular value is the Restriction Type filter -- click it:
  • Public Use datasets are available for immediate download -- students searching for datasets for a class project should limit their searches to public-use datasets. 
  • Restricted Use datasets require an application process to obtain -- there'll be more on this later in the guide.
Explore the other Filter options to see how they might help you in narrowing your search results.

Find & Download Datasets

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Let's look at a specific dataset record:
  1. Use the Sort by: dropdown menu in the Search Results to sort by Time Period. 
    • Results are now listed in descending order, starting at the most recently-collected data.
  2. Find and click the result called American Identity and Representation Survey, 2012 (ICPSR 36410), Investigator Schildkraut, Deborah.
ICPSR Search Results Sort By menu

Dataset Record -- Key Parts

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There are many parts to an ICPSR dataset record -- we'll focus on those most critical for finding datasets for your own analysis.
ICPSR dataset record - At A Glance tab
Click the At A Glance tab
  • Brief information about the dataset (Summary, Geographic Coverage, Methodology, etc.) -- use this at-a-glance information to get a sense of whether the data is relevant for your purposes.
  • Look at the Subject Terms to get keyword ideas for searching for datasets, or click them to go to datasets tagged with that term -- you can also browse the ICPSR Thesaurus for possible search terms.
  • If you use the dataset for research or teaching, use the suggested Citation to document your use of the dataset and to enable others to easily find it if needed.

Dataset Record -- Key Parts

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ICPSR dataset record - Data & Documentation tab
Click the Data & Documentation tab
  • Lists the data files associated with the dataset -- how many separate files are listed varies with the particular dataset.
  • Click the Download button to see the options for downloading the data in different formats (SPSS, Stata, etc.) and downloading the codebook and other documentation necessary to understand and use the data -- click here for a short clip of downloading and opening an SPSS file and codebook.

Dataset Record -- Key Parts

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ICPSR dataset record - Variables tab
Click the Variables tab
  • Browse or search for variables within the dataset -- a good way to shop around for specific variables of interest before committing to downloading the entire codebook/documentation and data file(s).
  • The Dataset column indicates the specific data file a variable and its associated data is in -- useful when there are multiple data files in the Data & Documentation tab because it will help you decide which data files you need to download. 

Dataset Record -- Key Parts

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ICPSR dataset record - Publications tab
Click the Publications tab
  • Lists publications that have used the dataset -- if you are going to use the data for your own analyses, you should consult how others have used it to gain insights from their work and also explore how you might analyze the data in a different/unique way.
  • All publications might not be listed -- be sure to search library databases or Google Scholar to find those not listed.

Dataset Record -- Key Parts

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ICPSR dataset record - Analyze Online button
Click the Analyze Online button
  • Many ICPSR dataset records have the option to analyze the data online without downloading it and using software -- good for initial exploration of the data (and for teaching students data analysis without having to teach them software).
  • Analyze Online has two options: 
    • SDA -- various analysis options plus recode/compute new variables and download customized subsets options, or
    • Simple crosstab/frequency -- create table with intersecting rows/columns of two variables plus charts and summary statistics.
Let's do a simple crosstab analysis:
  1. Click the Analyze Online button, then click the simple crosstab/frequency button.
  2. Click the the Row: field, type SURRPAN (the name of a specific variable), and hit Enter.
  3. Click the Column: field, type PPETHM (the name of a specific variable), and hit Enter.
  4. Click the Build the Table button.
Setting up a simple crosstab

Browse for Datasets

Now that you're familiar with a dataset record, click FIND DATA in the purple banner to return to the Find Data page and try the other browse options for finding datasets: 
  • Series -- series data allows you to compare topics/variables across time (e.g., year-to-year, decade-to-decade, etc.)
  • Thematic Data Collections -- ICPSR partners with several statistical agencies and foundations to create collections organized around specific topics (e.g., aging, disability, health, education, criminal justice, arts & humanities, racial & ethnic minorities).
  • Global Data -- datasets that offer non-US geographic coverage or include US coverage in addition to other non-US geographies.
  • Browse by Keyword -- browse and click on ICPSR Subject Terms for a list of dataset records tagged with that term.
ICPSR > FIND DATA menu > FIND DATA > Browse options

Search for Datasets

Click FIND DATA in the purple banner to return to the Find Data page. 
Try a keyword search -- click the search tips link under the search field to learn how to best construct your search and to browse the ICPSR Subject Thesaurus for possible keywords.
ICPSR > FIND DATA menu > FIND DATA > Search field
Keyword searching finds your keyword(s) in the documentation for datasets, including descriptions of the individual variables.
Speaking of variables...

Search/Compare Variables

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Researchers often want datasets that contain specific variables they are interested in -- the dependent variable often the most critical, followed by independent variables that the researcher believes impact what's happening in the dependent variable.
ICPSR's Social Science Variables Database (SSVD) enables users to examine and compare variables and questions across studies or series. The SSVD includes over 5 million variables from about 76% of ICPSR's datasets.
ICPSR > Search/Compare Variables banner option

Search/Compare Variables

2 of 4To search the SSVD for variables:
  1. Click SEARCH/COMPARE VARIABLES in the purple banner (or at top left click FIND DATA dropdown menu and then click SEARCH/COMPARE VARIABLES).
  2. Let's find variables that measure how liberal or conservative a person is -- type liberal conservative in the search field and click GO.
  3. Let's limit our search to studies from year 2000 forward -- in Filters at the left, click Time Period button, set from date to 2000-01-01 and to date to 2018-12-31, then click Submit button.
The results list variables from different studies that have both liberal and conservative in their variable questions -- click a variable name (e.g., K_38) to see a frequency distribution of response categories, summary statistics, and a link to the study's dataset record.

Search/Compare Variables

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Let's compare two variables: 
  1. Click the browser's back arrow to return to the Search Results list.
  2. In the Search Results list, find and checkbox the following variables: K_38 and F1Q1
  3. Click the Actions button, then click Compare.
ICPSR > Search/Compare Variables > Actions button
We now have a top-to-bottom comparison of the liberal-conservative variables from the two datasets -- allowing us to easily explore similarities/differences in question wording, response categories, study time period, universe of the sample population, etc.

Search/Compare Variables

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Comparing variables is useful for various purposes:
  • You may choose one dataset over the other due to the wording of the variable question or response categories.
  • The number of variable response categories and their level of measurement impacts what analyses you can do, which may influence your decision to use a dataset.
  • The study universe may influence your decision to use a dataset (e.g., the K_38 variable study includes only Detroit and Chicago residents, whereas the F1Q1 variable study is a US population sample).
  • If you're creating your own survey instrument for original data collection, you can explore how others have worded variable questions and response categories to inform how you construct your variable.

Restricted Use Data

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Thus far you've gained familiarity with what's in an ICPSR dataset record and how to find and download "public use" data.
Let's look at a restricted-use dataset:
  1. Click FIND DATA in the purple banner to return to the Find Data page.
  2. Click the Topics link in the Browse options.
  3. Scroll to and click the Mass Political Behavior and Attitudes topic link.
  4. Find and click the result called 2012 Latino Immigrant National Election Study (LINES) (ICPSR 36680), Investigators McCann, James A.; Jones-Correa, Michael.

Restricted Use Data

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In the dataset record you'll see a Notes box (right side of screen) that says:
One or more files in this data collection have special restrictions. Restricted data files are not available for direct download from the website; click on the Restricted Data button to learn more.
ICPSR dataset record - Restricted Data note

Restricted Use Data

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ICPSR restricts direct download of entire datasets or specific data files and/or variables within a dataset for various reasons -- typically because they contain sensitive information about research participants, such as:
  • Data that could permit the identification of individuals -- e.g., geographic location down to the Census block-level, Protected Health Information (PHI), etc.
  • Data about participants that would put them at risk if not used ethically -- e.g., the restricted-use dataset you're currently looking at surveyed "Latino immigrants, the majority of whom were not U.S. citizens."
  • Data from recognized "vulnerable populations" -- e.g., children, prisoners, patients, adults who are cognitively or decisionally impaired, etc.

Restricted Use Data

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Each restricted-use dataset has different processes for obtaining access to it -- click the Access Restricted Data button to see what a specific dataset requires.


ICPSR dataset record - Access Restricted Data button 

Obtaining access to ICPSR restricted-use data typically requires:


  • An application process requiring GSU IRB approval and a legal contract regarding ethical and responsible use of the data.
  • The primary researcher to have an appointment at a research institution (like GSU) and a doctorate degree -- but faculty can apply on behalf of students, so restricted data is not necessarily off limits for graduate students' theses or dissertations.

Restricted Use Data

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Once access is granted, depending on the individual dataset, you may:
  • Download the dataset and work with it on your own computer, typically with special security restrictions (e.g., a computer in a locked office, a non-networked computer), OR
  • Access the data via an ICPSR virtual data enclave (VDE), which allows secure access to the data through a virtual private network connection to your own computer, OR
  • Be required to travel to ICPSR (at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor) to analyze the data via a physical data enclave.
See the Accessing Restricted Data at ICPSR page for more details.
NOTE: The ICPSR "Official Representative" at GSU has no authority to bypass the restricted-data requirements. They also are not the "Representative of the Institution" mentioned in the Restricted Data Use Agreement (contact GSU Legal Affairs Office or URSA to find out who is).

And that's ICPSR!

This completes your whirlwind tour of ICPSR!


We hope that this guide was a helpful introduction to ICPSR.


ICPSR's Get Help with Data page also has FAQs, a link to the ICPSR YouTube tutorials channel, and contact information for user support.


Also feel free to contact the Research Data Services Team at for further assistance.