Other presidents have faced political predicaments similar to Obama's. Before him, five of the last six elected presidents — Democrats and Republicans — had a House controlled by the opposition party at some point during their tenure. President Jimmy Carter was the one who didn't.
The California experimentation is significant because a change in the map-makers could lead to more competitive congressional districts, which in turn may produce a less polarized House. Representatives whose electorates are disproportionately Republican or Democratic are under less pressure to find middle ground on legislation or reach out to voters who are registered with the other party.
The change California made "should have the effect both on the left and the right of moderating elements of the delegation, whereas in the past they were all in safe seats, so Republicans were free to be pretty conservative and Democrats were free to be pretty liberal and there was never any consequences of that," said Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant who served as deputy communications director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Jocelyn Benson, interim dean of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit and a Democratic voting rights advocate, agreed. "The only real solution" to decreasing congressional polarization is for states to create "an independent redistricting commission that has the power to not only draw the map but enact it as well," Benson said.
Still, the challenges for advocates of revising the redistricting process are formidable because partisan state legislators are loath to surrender the power. In California, voters passed on six opportunities to approve an initiative to change the process before, on the seventh try, it was approved.
"It's a hard sell. It's one of those arcane issues," said Alexander. "It's one of those issues that only comes around once every 10 years and people can get very worked up about when it's happening and then it's easy to forget about it once it's all over."