Popular outrage against taxes appears to be yesterday's news, the election issue of long-ago 1980. This year, the nuclear arms race has replaced tax cutting as the most popular referendum question on the nation's ballots next Tuesday.

Taxes are still controversial, however, and so are disposable beverage containers and utility company regulations. Facing the voters this year are issues as explosive as gun control in California and abortion in Alaska, and as local as whether to build a $9 billion high-speed inter-city railroad system in Ohio and who gets to install dentures in Idaho.

In all, more than 50 ballot questions are awaiting answers in 24 states and the District of Columbia, a record number. Heavy spending has fueled public interest in most of the questions, and many are being watched closely as possible indicators for nationwide trends.

This tally does not even include the countless bond issues or local tax and job-creation ideas offered as ballot propositions.

Voters in nine states and the District of Columbia will consider the "nuclear-freeze" issue, deciding whether President Reagan should be urged to start talks with the Soviet Union on a mutual halt to the manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons.

In addition to the District, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon and Rhode Island, this question will be on the ballot in 30 cities and counties where the freeze is not on the state ticket, including Chicago, Denver, Miami, Philadelphia and Reno.

Backers expect a more or less sweeping victory, noting that no other single issue has ever been put before so many voters at one time. However, the administration has vigorously opposed the freeze, and none of the referendums is binding on the government.

The future of power plants is also at stake in several states, and critics claim Election Day will provide a nationwide negative verdict on nuclear energy.

But industry officials point out that each initiative poses a slightly different issue or is worded differently from the others, and that only one of the questions, whether to ban nuclear power altogether in Maine, would shut down an operating plant.

One question, in Idaho, supports the industry and would require voter approval of any effort to limit nuclear power growth.

A Massachusetts question, considered a tossup, would all but ban nuclear power plants or waste dumps in the state, requiring a statewide referendum plus clearance of complex legislative hurdles for one to be established.

An initiative in Colorado would set up a fund to convert the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant to peaceful use, but its chances are considered slim.

There are initiatives to repeal or limit taxes in six states. Idaho's would raise tax exemptions, Maine's would index state income taxes, Montana's would target coal tax income and Washington's would repeal a restaurant food tax and replace it with a 10 percent tax on corporate profits.

Nevada has four tax adjustment choices, while Oregonians are likely to approve a clone of California's Proposition 13 that would roll back property assessments to 1979 levels.

Missouri voters are expected to agree to a new 1 percent sales tax to provide more school funding, but to reject one increasing gasoline taxes 4 cents for road improvements.

Voters in five states--Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington -- decide whether to require beverages to be sold in returnable bottles. A well-financed "cockroach campaign" in Massachusetts features commercials warning that stockpiled returnable containers would attract the bugs.

Rising fuel and electricity bills have made utility regulation an issue in four states. Missouri and Nevada initiatives would set up utility consumer-advocate offices. Proposals in Ohio and Michigan would make utility commissioners run for election, while other initiatives in Michigan would rewrite the rate-setting rules.

The most controversial of a number of crime-control initiatives is the one in California to freeze the number of handguns there at current levels and jail possessors of unregistered guns starting next April. But questions on New Hampshire and Nevada ballots would reaffirm that citizens have a right to keep and bear arms.

Massachusetts voters are expected to reinstate the death penalty because of frustration over rising crime, while measures tightening conditions for freeing prisoners on bail are expected to pass in Florida, Colorado and Arizona.

Legalized gambling is a question in five states. North Dakotans are expected to refuse to restrict it, Colorado and Montana voters will decide whether to expand it, while voters in South Dakota and Minnesota decide on legalization. The races are close.

Alaskans appear to favor a proposal to ban the use of state funds for abortion except to save the life of the mother. But it is uncertain whether they will vote to pay for a previously approved move of the state capital from Juneau to a swamp area near Willow, 70 miles north of Anchorage.

Alaska also votes, in the "Tundra Rebellion," whether to demand that Washington turn over federally owned land to the state, while Arizona will decide whether to repeal its "Sagebrush Rebellion" law that calls for the same thing.

Californians will vote on whether agriculture interests should be forced to conserve water. Colorado voters are expected to refuse to allow grocery stores to sell wine, while Maine decides whether to deregulate milk prices.

In Nebraska, Gov. Charles Thone backs a proposal to bar corporations from buying farm or grazing land. Banks are fighting a Washington initiative to limit interest rates for consumer loans.

Libertarians have sponsored a Montana proposal to kill a population-based quota system for wine and beer licenses. Oregonians probably will vote to allow self-service fuel stations in the state, leaving New Jersey the only place where they are forbidden. In Idaho, voters decide whether "denturists" who are not dentists may install people's false teeth.

And the District of Columbia, in addition to deciding whether to demand a nuclear arms freeze, will vote whether to ask for statehood under a controversial proposed constitution.