A recurring theme of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s attacks on President Barack Obama has been that America’s stature in the world has declined under Obama’s stewardship. In January, after winning the New Hampshire primary, Romney charged that “(Obama) believes that America’s role as leader in the world is a thing of the past.” In late May, President Obama pushed back. In a commencement address to the graduates of the Air Force Academy he asserted: “Let’s start by putting aside the tired notion that says our influence has waned, that America is in decline.”

The presidential campaign promises more of this to and fro as each candidate attempts to seize the high ground as the champion of American triumphalism. The anti-Americanism around the world during the Bush era profoundly challenged Americans’ self-image. Romney seems intent on convincing voters that the bad old days of Ugly America are returning thanks to Obama. The president implies that the Obama-mania that swept much of the world in the wake of his election in 2008 remains a positive asset for the United States.A new global survey released Wednesday shows both presidential contenders are right. And both are wrong. As a result, the Romney and Obama camps are likely to cherry pick world public opinion data that bolsters their partisan argument. And they will conveniently ignore foreigners’ sentiments that contradict their broader campaign themes.

As with many public opinion findings, all things are relative. Any assessment of the global public’s take on America during the Obama era depends on whether it is a snapshot or a moving picture. And when exactly the cameras start rolling.Overall ratings for the U.S. today remain largely positive in 12 of 20 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes project involving more than 25,000 people outside the United States. This includes large majorities in a number of European nations, as well as Japan and Brazil. In contrast, ratings are decidedly negative in four of the six predominantly Muslim countries polled.

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