Going into Election Day 2011, the conventional wisdom said that voters would offer some clues about prevailing political attitudes and what’s to come in 2012. As the dust settles on last night’s results, if the conventional wisdom is right, Republican optimism about next year is badly misplaced.

From coast to coast, Democrats and progressive goals not only won, but in most instances, won big. Some of the highlights:


Despite the aggressive efforts of the Republican Party, Gov. John Kasich, and anti-labor forces, voters easily overturned restrictions on collective bargaining. With nearly every precinct reporting, Issue 2 got crushed, 61% to 39%, handing unions a major victory with national implications.


In a terrific surprise, voters soundly rejected the proposed “Personhood” amendment that would have banned abortions, birth control, in-vitro fertilization, stem-cell research, and treatment of ectopic pregnancies. Opponents of the right-wing effort appear to have won about 57% of the vote.


Republicans recently ended Election Day voter registration. Yesterday, voters brought it back, 61% to 39%.

Republicans did not end the day completely empty handed. Phil Bryant (R) was elected governor in Mississippi, and it looks like the GOP gained just enough seats to split Virginia’s state Senate, though Republicans came up short of their goal of reclaiming a majority.

But the good news for the right was easily overwhelmed by good news for the left. In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) cruised to an easy victory and Dems won nearly every statewide race; in Arizona, Democrats successfully recalled radical state Senate President Russell Pearce (R); Dems won a key state Senate special election in Iowa and will maintain control of the chamber; voters ignored Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) efforts in New Jersey and kept Democratic majorities in both chambers of the state legislature; and voters in Michigan recalled a far-right Republican state representative, the first-ever successful recall in state history.

Republicans, who thought they had the winds at their backs after the 2010 midterms, expected success in 2011 to generate some momentum going into 2012. Instead, they received the opposite, with voters nationwide rejecting GOP candidates and conservative causes.

If recent history is any guide, Republicans will respond to the setbacks by changing nothing and forging ahead with the exact same agenda and far-right ideology.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.