Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole, fresh from a swing around the country, said yesterday it looks to him as though "the majority of Americans still want the SALT II treaty approved" even though "the hard right is against it."

The Kansas senator gave that reading to reporters at a press conference where he recommended President Carter name a special commission to assess the nation's defense needs. He said such an assessment would help him and other senators decide how to vote on the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II).

"I would like to vote for SALT II," Dole said. The senator added that the Carter administration has not been "shot out of the box" as some lawmakers had predicted at the outset of the SALT II debate, but has instead made a "thoroughly good" case for the treaty.

By Dole's count, there are 20 to 25 senators "who haven't made a judgment" on whether to vote for the treaty. He wrote Carter that a new commission to assess the U.S. defense posture would help build "a broader, bipartisan consensus around our" military needs.

The presidential commission to make an outside assessment should include present and former government executives as well as arms specialists from colleges and universities, Dole said in a letter to the president, released yesterday.

Dole also called on Carter to order the Joint Chiefs of Staff to submit a report on the trends in the strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Union "through the end of this century."

Dole did not accuse congressional committees of failing to develop the facts on defense needs to guide senators in making their judgments on the SALT II treaty. However, the senator contended, an outside view would help clarify many of the issues now swirling around the SALT II treaty.

Discussing the SALT II politics confronting presidential candidates like himself, Dole quipped: "You can't get the nomination if you vote for SALT; you can't get elected if you vote against it."