When he was finishing his latest book, Stayin’ Alive, the pollster and author Michael Adams (MA 1970) was living the meat-in-the-sandwich lifestyle that is currently the lot of countless middle-aged Canadians: teens in high school, parents frail and dying. “A classic baby boomer place,” as he puts it, sipping white wine in a favourite haunt in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood. “This is the most personal of all the books I have produced,” says Adams, “as it is the story of me, my family and my friends.”
After completing it, Adams found himself wondering whether Stayin’ Alive would become his swan song. It’s unlikely. Adams, who has been tracking social values since 1983, still seems far too engaged with the business of unearthing Canadian public opinion to hang up the towel – a stance that also marks the 64-year-old Environics co-founder as a card-carrying boomer. “If I were to be zapped by a Vespa jaywalking across Bloor Street today, I would be happy to have ended my authorial career with this book,” he says. “If I manage to dodge that Vespa, then I will continue to work for the rest of my life as long as it does not feel like work.”
On a sunny fall day, he’s fuming (still) about the Conservative Party’s decision to scrap the long-form census. Adams is also full of talk about his latest venture, the four-year-old Environics Institute for Survey Research. Its aim is “to stimulate constructive discourse” based on public-opinion research geared at specific groups, such as Muslims and aboriginals, who tend not to be the subject of values surveys.
Adams’ previous titles probed and prodded the body politic; his bestseller Fire and Ice definitively laid to rest the notion that Canadians are simply Americans with snow shovels at the ready. In Stayin’ Alive, he divides the boomers into four “values” tribes, reasoning that people’s beliefs shape our opinions to external forces at least as powerfully as more traditional categories (age, region, party affiliation). He slots himself into the “Autonomous Rebel” tribe – which most closely resembles the prevailing stereotype of the boomer as a countercultural hippie.
Looking ahead to the boomers’ dotage, Adams doesn’t expect the much-studied generation born between 1946 and 1964 to make a sharp right turn into reactionary old age. The boomers, his findings further indicate, are not morphing into their parents, and the progressive values of their youth remain intact. “The Autonomous Rebel at 60 looks like the Autonomous Rebel at 40,” he says. “We’re becoming more like ourselves.”