The United States has to raise the debt ceiling -- full stop. If we don't increase the United States' legal borrowing limit, the government will technically default on its debt and cease funding up to 40 percent of the budget. That's awfully bad news! But try telling the public ...

The U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes raising the country's debt limit even though failure to do so could hurt America's international standing and push up borrowing costs, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

Some 71 percent of those surveyed oppose increasing the borrowing authority, the focus of a brewing political battle over federal spending. Only 18 percent support an increase.

Okay, so the headline of this piece might be unfair. Americans probably don't understand the implications of raising the debt ceiling. After all, the debt ceiling vote is an awfully silly legal requirement, like asking a restaurant patron to fill out a separate affidavit after paying for a meal.

But ultimately, we have to remember that polls aren't LSATs, and respondents don't prep for the questions by studying the implications of their answers. People respond with their stomachs. That's why polls are good gut checks, but bad public policy beacons.

Read more about the debt ceiling and how to think through it.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.