STATES, as they say, are laboratories of democracy, testing-grounds of national politics. So what's transpiring in states could well affect the politics of 2012.

What's transpiring?

The rubber's hitting the road. Republican governors holding a majority of key swing states are turning their promises of less government into public policy.

Voters are starting to feel the difference between government that's socially progressive and governance that favors free-market forces and won't raise taxes.

The most evident early returns of this swap are playing out in reduced-funding proposals affecting unions and education.

Yes, there are proposed social-services cuts that will fall on local governments. Yes, there are rumblings (and some action) on issues such as immigration, abortion, expanded gun rights and same-sex marriage.

But taxes and spending are the main debate, and the underlying question is: Are Republicans overreaching?

Some Democrats such as Ed Rendell already predict - as he just did on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" - that Republicans are cutting too deeply and that Democrats will come "roaring back."

I'm not yet convinced. But there is some evidence that GOP plans, once specified, aren't all that well-received.

A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll shows the same voter pool that elected Tom Corbett on a promise of spending cuts now claims it strongly opposes cuts to higher-ed and local school districts.

One wonders where they thought he'd cut, given that education accounts for more than 40 percent of our state spending.

Still, there are signals that might give Republicans pause.

In Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and New Jersey, GOP governors pushing cuts - after being elected to do so - are beginning to lag in public polls.

The F&M poll puts Corbett's job-performance rating at 31 percent, this after he won the governorship just four months ago with 55 percent of the vote.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich, who is cutting money to local governments and seeking to limit public unions' bargaining rights, has an approval rating of 30 percent in a new Quinnipiac University poll.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, who is cutting education and state jobs, has a Public Policy Polling approval of 32 percent. And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's rating is a dismal 22 percent, according to a Bloomberg national poll.

Even New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, the recognized darling of GOP cutters, fell below a majority approval rating (down to 46 percent) after presenting a cost-cutting budget last month, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll.

Republican consultant John Brabender, who worked for Corbett and, through the Republican Governors Association, for Walker, says it's too soon for judgment.

"In fairness, given what these governors were handed, they had no choice," says Brabender. "All these governors wish they had more revenue. . . . Ultimately, they'll be judged on the fact they did what they promised, the sky didn't fall and they didn't raise taxes."

A fair point, unless we're in a period of constant political change born of disillusionment and economic hardship.

Do Democrats in '08 and Republicans in '10 suggest Democrats in '12?

Well, it's about the economy, and it's personal. And the disparity between the rich and the rest is real.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan D.C.-based think tank, says that since the 1970s, the lowest 10 percent of wage earners saw their income rise just 4.5 percent while the top 5 percent of earners' income rose 36 percent.

When General Electric doesn't pay federal taxes on profits of $14.2 billion or when 71 percent of companies doing business in Pennsylvania (not to mention gas drillers) pay no state income tax, the income disparity feels even worse.

If no-tax, less-government policies of GOP governors work, good. If they lead to higher local taxes and little or no improvement in the economy, expect another political shift - and blame it on overreaching.