SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's attempt to marginalise the opposition by claiming it would change abortion rights and sideline women has backfired with a poll on Monday showing male voters are deserting her.
Ms Gillard, the country's first female leader, last week reignited a simmering gender war by saying in a speech that government would be dominated by "men in blue ties" should opposition leader Tony Abbott assume office in September elections.
"It's a decision about whether, once again, we will banish women's voice from the core of our political life," said the embattled prime minister in the speech, desperate to shore up waning support.
"We don't want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better."
But the ploy has backfired with a poll in Fairfax Media showing male voters are abandoning Ms Gillard and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and there is little sign of more women getting behind her.
The telephone poll of 1,400 voters found that since the last survey a month ago Labor's standing has continued to slide, led entirely by a seven percent exodus of men.
Under a two-party vote, the conservative opposition would romp home in the Sept 14 elections with 57 percent (up three points) to 43 percent (down three points) for Labor.
Labor's primary vote, which strips out the support of minor parties, has slumped to just 29 percent with the opposition at 47 percent - a huge lead which would wipe out 35 Labor MPs, the poll showed.
Pollster John Stirton said the swing against Labor occurred only among men.
"Labor's primary vote was down seven points among men and up one point among women. The ALP two-party vote fell 10 points among men and rose two points among women," he said.
But the poll, taken between Thursday and Saturday, showed that if Ms Gillard's arch-rival Kevin Rudd was returned as Labor leader, their primary vote would be a much more competitive 40 percent to the opposition's 42 percent.
Mr Rudd was ruthlessly ousted by Ms Gillard in a 2010 leadership coup but he remains hugely popular.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that Mr Rudd has told colleagues he will not challenge Gillard again unless key cabinet ministers support the move after he failed in a bid to unseat her in 2012.
The unmarried Gillard has often been the subject of jibes about her gender, clothing and private life and she won global acclaim last year for comments on misogyny, claiming she was sick and tired of dealing with alleged sexism from Mr Abbott and the opposition.