State Department analysis of voting patterns at the United Nations and in other multilateral venues has been primarily qualitative, despite the large amount of quantitative data on country positions and negotiated outcomes readily available on UN and other international organization websites.
“Multilateral Moneyball” is an undergraduate capstone project in the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs to apply statistical methods to identify trends in voting coincidence and suggest for U.S. diplomatic engagement that will promote policy goals. Of particular interest to policy makers are the following issues: trends and anomalies in voting coincidence; effects of blocs and regional institutions, especially the influences of defection from bloc cohesion; inflection points, i.e., changes in voting behavior; effects of personnel or reputation in the negotiation process. The project will augment interagency understanding of multilateral voting behavior and diplomatic outcomes and to assess the utility of U.S. initiatives and diplomatic engagement in achieving policy.
The Yale undergraduates had no computer programming experience before they began; by the end of the semester they were using the Python language and the statistical package R to create innovative analyses and visualizations of speeches from voting blocs within the United Nations and voting data. They students presented their final work to an Undersecretary in the State Department. Part of the tools that they used were cutting-edge open source software packages recently released by DARPA, funded by the White House’s Big Data Initiative.