With Americans heading to the polls this week for the first time in 2016, the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has launched an Election Watch page on its website to explain the process and connect students, staff and the public with experts in the field.

Voting for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees begins this week in Iowa, before the candidates head to New Hampshire on Tuesday 9 February (US time).

Associate professor Brendon O’Connor, who will teach the unit US Politics: Elections, Presidents, Laws - one of many Election Watch subjects this year - discussed the idiosyncratic process in Iowa for a podcast available on the new webpage.

“Caucuses can occur in people’s houses, school halls and churches. They are very televisual events, events that sometimes occur in snow with a sense of drama. They’re made for TV events.”

O’Connor said these early votes would have an outsized impact on the campaign going forward and would be crucial in deciding who becomes President.

“This is an agenda setting event. It creates a huge storyline. Victories like Barack Obama’s in Iowa in 2008 really set his campaign alight. It’s very hard to recover from poor results in both places.”

“A small grouping of people in some ways are playing an enormous role in the fate of American politics and some would say world politics for the next four, potentially eight years.”

O’Connor predicted close races in both Iowa and New Hampshire, with Bernie Sanders likely to win one if not both of the contests for the Democrats and Donald Trump remaining the candidate to beat for Republicans. 

"If there's a divided field, the likelihood of a Trump victory in the Republican primaries is pretty high. And that is an extraordinary thing to say given his unsuitability to be the President of the United States."