Six out of seven people say they just hate being surveyed

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Opinion may be cheap, but it is increasingly difficult to obtain. While it may surprise anyone recently stuck next to Mr or Ms Dull-but-Opinionated at a party, Britons are becoming less inclined to offer their views.

So much so, that those who make their living seeking opinion from the public are concerned such reticence may be placing their their £1.2bn-a-year industry at risk. They even have a phrase for it: clipboard fatigue.

Yesterday the annual conference of the Market Research Society (MRS) was told that growing numbers are refusing to co-operate with researchers. On average, pollsters stop seven people in the street before they find one who agrees to speak.

"It's partly our fault, partly society, partly the change in people's lifestyles," said Don Beverly, a member of the MRS.

Over the past five years more people have been using "avoidance practices" to dodge researchers - crossing the road, avoiding eye contact at all costs. The society is awaiting its first case of clipboard rage.

It is not just a matter of researchers' jobs becoming harder. There are fears that people with time on their hands, such as the unemployed and the elderly, may be over-represented.

To combat this, Mr Beverly, adirector of IRB International, one of 560 research companies in the country, said researchers must ensure the experience is enjoyable. One-third of people who take part in polls refuse to do so a second time, he added.

He said pollsters need to be clear on how long they want to speak to someone, who is sponsoring the research and what will be done with the information.