Collecting Data

Data collection can take a wide variety of forms but all political scientists engage in data collection at some point in their academic pursuits. For a political theorist, the data might be texts.  For someone studying elections in the United States, important data may include public opinion surveys or exit polls. A researcher trying to understand why Ghana is a stable democracy while its neighbor, Cote d’Ivoire, is not, may seek rich descriptions of the political leadership in those countries.

In the social sciences, we often make a distinction between such quantitative data and qualitative data. In general terms, quantitative data generally refers to information that can be counted and assigned some form of numerical value. An example is census data that provides us with the numbers of people who fit in different demographic categories. Statistical studies rely on such data and can be useful for discovering and understanding large overall patterns. Qualitative data refers to information that cannot be counted, that describes qualities or value attributes. An example is if you go an interview the President of the United States and ask him or her about their favorite type of food. Some political scientists actively debate the advantages and disadvantages of analysis that focuses on either of these forms of data. Where possible, many researchers try to draw on both.

Most undergraduate research projects involve using the data that others have collected. A list of some accessible quantitative data archives is at the bottom of this page. However, a number of undergraduates do engage in forms of data collection, especially in-depth interviewing and fieldwork. All will use the library as a means to collecting data.


Possible Quantitative Data Sources

General Data

International Politics

American Politics

Other Countries and Regions

updated July 16, 2017 – MN

past contributor: Nicholas Quah