Marylanders are sharply more liberal on social issues such as abortion and civil rights than most of the nation's electorate and they are somewhat more liberal on several other issues, such as the nuclear weapons freeze and a clean environment, according to a Washington Post poll.

The results of the poll, much like the state's rejection of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election, show with increasing force that Maryland has joined a handful of states, including Massachusetts and Oregon, which consistently reject conservative policies and candidates in favor of liberal and frequently Democratic ones.

Ann Lewis, political director of the Democratic National Committee, credits Maryland with having "sophisticated political leaders and electorate" who create a (liberal) climate "in which the plane of discussion is higher." Lewis, who worked for Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) before moving to the DNC, found the state "very open" in terms of who holds power. (For example, three of the state's eight members of the U.S. House are women, and there have been as many as four.)

The liberal bent is a constant source of frustration for the state's overwhelmed Republican Party, which each election runs up against a statewide voter registration that is 3-to-1 Democratic.

Results of the poll released this week showed this year's Republican challengers for governor and a U.S. Senate seat trailing far behind the liberal incumbent Democrats.

"Other than the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County and Western Maryland, it's a very liberal state," said state Republican Party Chairman Allan C. Levey. "The big voting blocs -- Baltimore, with its large black population, and the Washington suburbs, with all those federal workers -- is going to be liberal.

"The only Republicans who've won statewide have been liberal."

The last time a Republican claimed the governor's mansion in Annapolis was in 1966 when Spiro T. Agnew, then known as the moderate Baltimore County executive, defeated an ultra-conservative Democrat.

The only Republican to hold statewide office today is U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, a decidedly moderate Republican who is openly uncomfortable with his party's national administration.

The Post poll of Maryland, which interviewed a sample group of 609 registered voters from Oct. 7 to 10, and a second national poll of 1,069 registered voters conducted by The Post at the same time, clearly documents that the state's voters are left of the national norm, even though most of the Marylanders polled characterized themselves as moderates.

In both polls, voters were asked to consider several groups, ranging from environmentalists to Moral Majority leaders and large corporations, and evaluate whether each group was "helping make things better in this country, helping make things worse" or neither.

The sharpest distinctions between Maryland and the nation's electorate occurred on social issues.

On the effect of women's rights groups, for instance, Marylanders commented that they made life better by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

About 57 percent said the women's groups improved life and 21 percent said they made things worse. Another 16 percent said the groups had no effect.

Nationally, those polled were nearly evenly divided on the effect of women's groups, with 29 percent saying they made life better and 25 percent saying they did not. Another 36 percent nationally said the women's groups had no effect.

On the issue of black civil rights groups, 55 percent of the Marylanders surveyed said they made life better, with 18 percent saying they did not. Nationally, 30 percent had positive feelings about those groups compared to 21 percent who did not.

A plurality in both polls believe that antiabortion groups do not contribute positively to life in this country, but again Marylanders felt this more strongly. Nearly half those questioned in the Maryland poll said that antiabortion groups "make things worse," while just over one-third of the people felt that way in the national poll.

On the effect of the Moral Majority, 39 percent of Marylanders surveyed said they felt the conservative Christian organization was making life worse, and 18 percent said it was making life better. Nationally the sentiment was similar, but with only 31 percent commenting that the group made things worse.

While the rest of the nation was nearly evenly split on the issue of whether groups advocating a nuclear weapons freeze make life better or worse, Marylanders by a margin of 44 to 28 percent said those groups helped.

When asked about environmentalists, Marylanders said they were helping to improve the country by a margin of 62 to 11 percent.

Nationally, only 44 percent agreed that environmentalists were helping, and 19 percent said they were hurting life in this country.

Despite their liberal postures, those polled in Maryland showed an overwhelming support for stricter sentencing of criminals -- 77 percent said they favored stricter sentences, 2 percent said they favored less strict sentences, and 15 percent said the current system was strict enough.