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Record of American Democracy, 1984-1990 (ICPSR 2162)

Principal Investigator(s): King, Gary; Palmquist, Bradley; Adams, Greg; Altman, Micah; Benoit, Kenneth; Gay, Claudine; Lewis, Jeffrey B.; Mayer, Russ; Reinhardt, Eric


The Record of American Democracy (ROAD) data provide election returns, socioeconomic summaries, and demographic details about the American public at unusually low levels of geographic aggregation. The NSF-supported ROAD project spans every state in the country from 1984 through 1990 (including some off-year elections). These data enable research on topics such as electoral behavior, the political characteristics of local community context, electoral geography, the role of minority groups in elections and legislative redistricting, split ticket voting and divided government, and elections under federalism. One set of files (Part 3, PRECINCT directory, consisting of 205 SPSS portable files) includes every election at and above state House, along with party registration and other variables, in each state for the roughly 170,000 precincts nationwide (about 60 times the number of counties). Another set of files (Part 4, MCDGRP directory, 52 SPSS portable files) has added to these roughly 30-40 political variables an additional 3,725 variables merged from the 1990 United States Census for 47,327 aggregate units called MCD groups. The MCD group is a construct for purposes of this data collection. It is based on a merging of the electoral precincts and Census Minor Civil Divisions (MCDs). A MCD is about the size of a city or town. A MCD group is smaller than or equal to a county and (except in California) is greater than or equal to the size of a MCD. The MCD group units completely tile the United States landmass. The program used to create the MCD group level is also included as part of this collection, as well as the input and output files. This collection also includes geographic boundary files (found in the BOUNDS directory, Part 2) so users can easily draw maps with these data. Complete documentation of this study can be found in HTML format in the DOCS directory (Part 1). Also, the provided "User Guide" has an abbreviated version of the codebook (one not including basic voting variable statistics) for reference.

Access Notes

  • Data in this collection are available only to users at ICPSR member institutions. Please log in so we can determine if you are with a member institution and have access to these data files.


DS1:  DOCS - Download All Files (2.45 MB)
DS2:  BOUNDS - Download All Files (39.167 MB)
DS3:  PRECINCT - Download All Files (42.353 MB)
DS4:  MCDGRP - Download All Files (119.566 MB)
DS5:  NOTES - Download All Files (0.462 MB)
DS6:  KEY - Download All Files (1.08 MB)

Study Description


King, Gary, Bradley Palmquist, Greg Adams, Micah Altman, Kenneth Benoit, Claudine Gay, Jeffrey B. Lewis, Russ Mayer, and Eric Reinhardt. Record of American Democracy, 1984-1990 . ICPSR02162-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2012-08-09. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR02162.v1

Persistent URL: https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR02162.v1

Export Citation:

  • RIS (generic format for RefWorks, EndNote, etc.)
  • EndNote XML (EndNote X4.0.1 or higher)


This study was funded by:

  • National Science Foundation (SBR-9321212)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    congressional elections, democracy, demographic characteristics, election precincts, election returns, elections, local politics, minorities, minority voters, political attitudes, redistricting, socioeconomic status, voting behavior

Smallest Geographic Unit:    MCDgroup, county, precinct

Geographic Coverage:    United States

Time Period:   

  • 1984--1990

Data Type(s):    aggregate data, census/enumeration data

Data Collection Notes:

There are several idiosyncrasies in the data. The most significant are:

  • Missing Data Codes

    Missing values are set to system missing in SPSS. However, in a number of cases it appears that missing precincts were miscoded as zero. Be aware that in some precincts, it is not possible to ascertain definitively whether a 0 code indicates no votes or a missing value. In most cases, this has little consequence when the data are aggregated into MCD groups. However, before using the data one should consult the table of potentially miscoded precincts in the User Guide. Most cases with mixed 0s and missing data codes are artificial "precincts" added to the dataset to represent absentee ballots, or split actual precincts (i.e., those which contain voters for more than one district).

  • High Levels of Turnout

    This has been observed in a few states and years, and is probably a corollary of the missing data codes. Rarely, a significant number of registration entries were coded as 0, rather than missing, but the vote variables were not missing. When these are aggregated to MCD groups the result is that it is possible for the turnout to be greater than 100 percent of registration. If the precinct level data shows 0 registration and positive turnout, suspect this as the cause.

  • Matching Precincts to MCD groups

    Great care was taken to match precincts to MCD groups, and the process is explained in detail in the User Guide. Still, some precincts could not be matched, or were questionable. All exceptions are detailed in the User Guide and the individual exceptions files (in Part 5, the NOTES directory).

  • Matching Precincts to Other Units

    Precinct-level data contains codes that reference other geographic levels. These were supplied in the original data files, and no attempt has been made to validate data aggregated to other units than MCD groups.

Please visit the ROAD Web site for additional information regarding the data collection.


Study Design:    Please refer to the User Guide for information on study design.


Original ICPSR Release:   1998-06-30

Version History:

  • 2012-08-09 This data collection was previously available only on CD through ICPSR. The files have been acquired from the master CD and made available for download through ICPSR's website.

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