Decision Trees and Political Party Classification


Last time we investigated the k-nearest-neighbors algorithm and the underlying idea that one can learn a classification rule by copying the known classification of nearby data points. This required that we view our data as sitting inside a metric space; that is, we imposed a kind of geometric structure on our data. One glaring problem is that there may be no reasonable way to do this. While we mentioned scaling issues and provided a number of possible metrics in our primer, a more common problem is that the data simply isn't numeric. For instance, a poll of US citizens might ask the respondent to select which of a number of issues he cares most about. There could be 50 choices, and there is no reasonable way to assign these numerical values so that all are equidistant in the resulting metric space. Another issue is that the quality of the data could be bad. For instance, there may be missing values for some attributes (e.g., a respondent may neglect to answer one or more questions).

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