While most Americans are likely to make their final choice in Tuesday's presidential election based on national economic issues -- barring a dramatic turn in the Iranian hostage situation -- the rest of the world awaits the outcome from a significantly different perspective.

The contest between President Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan can be viewed in the context of a world beset by East-West tension following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the uncertainty surrounding the Persian Gulf war. With the potential for global confrontation as great as at any time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, there is intense interest abroad in the battle for the major leadership role in the Western world.

This is by no means to suggest that there is enthusiasm abroad for the race, or a clear presidential preference in foreign capitals. Regardless of the outcome, doubts and genuine concern about the future of U.S. foreign policy are likely to linger, according to an informal survey by Washington Post correspondents.

The correspondents sampled opinion among government leaders, diplomats and ordinary citizens in an effort to gain some insight into the thinking abroad about the U.S. elections. The results are unscientific, and make no attempt to establish beyond a doubt whether Carter or Reagan has the greater support overseas.

For instance, correspondents in Europe, East and West, found that many foreign leaders seem to favor -- grudgingly -- Carter's reelection despite much residual mistrust based on what is widely perceived as the present administration's unpredictable, makeshift diplomacy.

Nevertheless, as a government source in Tokyo told correspondent William Chapman, many allied leaders "would feel more comfortable to see Carter continue. They feel they have spent lots of time educating Carter on our problems and that he is aware of them."

America's main superpower foe, the Soviet Union, shares one overriding concern with Western Europe allies of the United States. To the Europeans, comments suggest that the decisive issue is strategic arms limitation, and Reagan's expressed desire to renegotiate SALT II makes Carter a preferred choice.

On the other hand, some allied leaders who view the Carter administration as weak and vacillating are enamored with the tough-talking Reagan. It is even suggested that Washington's Warsaw Pact adversaries would just as soon have a hawk, as Reagan is perceived, in the White House on the theory that he would be more predictable.

The largely unenthusiastic support for Carter may have been best summed up by an editorial in the NRC Handelsblad, a leading Dutch daily, which wrote: "No matter what happens, the result will give us little reason for cheerfulness, with Carter's reelection the least somber outcome. The quicker Nov. 4 is behind us, the better."

Today's sampling of opinion will concentrate on America's major allies in Western Europe and the communist superpowers, the Soviet Union and China. Tomorrow the focus will be on the developing world, from Latin America to the Middle East.