CSCI 3202

Assignment 6

Assigned: Tue Oct 19, 2004
Due: Thu Oct 28, 2004

In this assignment, you will implement the decision-tree learning algorithm. You will also use cross validation to estimate the performance of the decision tree. The decision tree will have a parameter--the maximum depth of the tree, or maxdepth--which will control the complexity of the resulting decision tree. You will explore how varying maxdepth affects the decision tree's performance on both the training set and the test set.

The data set available for this assignment is based on the U.S. congress voting record from 1984. The data set consists of the votes (yes or no) on sixteen issues for each of the 435 members of congress. From the voting record, the task of the machine learning system is to predict whether the member of congress is a Republican or a Democrat. The voting data set is described in the UCI Machine Learning Repository. However, I have cleaned up the data set and made it available at

The original data set contained many missing values, i.e., votes in which a member of congress failed to participate. Dealing with missing values is tricky, so I made your task simpler by inserting--for each absent vote--the voting decision of the majority. The result is that each record in the data base looks something like the following:
D y y y n n n y y y n n n n n y y

The D (or R) indicates the individual is a Democrat (Republican), and the symbols y and n denote yes and no votes. The column in which the y or n appears corresponds to the particular issue being voted on. Because all input attributes are binary, the resulting decision tree will also be binary (two branches from every non-leaf node).

The votes.tar file contains five copies of the data, each split into training and test sets. The training sets are named votes-train[0-4].data and the test sets are named votes-test[0-4].data. The union of the five test sets is the entire data base. Thus, training and testing on each of the five sets corresponds to five-fold cross validation. I've split up the data in this manner to make your task easier, and to ensure that everyone should obtain the same result.

Your decision tree program should take three inputs: (1) the name of the training file, (2) the name of the test file, and (3) maxdepth. The tree should be prevented from going deeper than maxdepth (maxdepth=1 means a root node--level 0--and leaves--level 1). The program should build a decision tree subject to the maxdepth constraint, and then output the classification accuracy on both the training and test sets. You should perform this experiment for the five hold-out (test) sets, and compute the total proportion correct on the training and test sets for a particular value of maxdepth. Repeat this procedure for maxdepth ranging from 0 to 6.

Hand in code for your decision tree, a table and a graph showing performance on the training and test sets as maxdepth is varied.

To begin constructing your tree, start with a root node. Associate all training examples with the root node. Consider branching the tree along each attribute dimension, and choose the dimension that yields the greatest gain, as quantified in the text. Create two child nodes--the two branches from the root--and associate with each child node the training examples that would be passed to that node. Repeat this process, stopping with the maximum tree depth is reached, when all examples associated with a node have the same classification, or when all examples associated with a node have the exact same voting record. For each of these leaf nodes, label the node as D or R, based on whether a majority of the training examples are Democrats or Republicans. If there's exactly the same number of Democrats and Republicans at a leaf node, you can label the node whichever way you prefer. It might make more sense to label the node D because a majority of members of congress were Democrats in 1984.

For the voting record data set, each attribute is binary, and is either y or n. The output of the decision tree is one of two classes (D or R). You can make your code specific to this case (binary branches from nodes, all labeled y or n, and binary classification).


Do not put off this assignment until the last minute. Here are some milestones to guide your development.

This assignment could be implemented in C, C++, Java, or perl; it shouldn't matter much which platform you use. My perl implementation of this assignment is about 200 lines long.   YOU MUST HAND IN YOUR CODE WITH YOUR SOLUTION.