Candidates' debate fallback: 'Go to my website'

Candidates' debate fallback: 'Go to my website'
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Presidential candidates have a new fallback line during debates: "Go to my website."

The Hill tallied 46 instances in which candidates from both parties directed voters to check out their websites during this cycle's debates.

The trend isn't unique to the 2016 presidential race, but the frequency has exploded. Calls from candidates to visit their websites have increased more than five-fold compared to the 2008 or 2012 elections.

For candidates, it's an easy way to encourage voters to seek more information on issues or donate money. 

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Nearly every major candidate this cycle has done so. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFlorida sheriff asks for new leads in disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband after Netflix's 'Tiger King' drops Ted Cruz jokes about quarantine boredom, 'Tiger King' Trump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act MORE has done it the most on the Republican side – 12 times. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Schumer: Administration 'must move heaven and earth' to implement new unemployment benefits Biden associates reach out to Holder about VP search MORE tops the Dem field, sending voters to his website eight times during debates. 

He was also the first to do so this cycle, mentioning his website twice during CNN's October Democratic debate.

“If people want to help us out, BernieSanders.com. We are averaging $30 bucks apiece. We would appreciate your help,” Sanders said at the time. He used his other plug to highlight his opposition to the Iraq war.

On the Democratic side, the majority of calls are aimed at asking voters to donate or help their cause.

But on the Republican side, in most cases candidates told voters to visit their websites to check policy positions such as tax plans or their immigration reform stance.

The only major candidate who hasn’t plugged his website during a debate is Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE. Trump claims to not actively solicit donations. He's also been criticized over the depth of his policy proposals, with opponents claiming he hasn't shared the details.

"I will tell you, I don't have to give you a website because I'm self-funding my campaign," he said during a Fox Business Network debate in November.

But Trump's website received the most traffic of any of the candidates in February, boosted by the massive media attention on the GOP front-runner. The stats from Similarweb showed him followed by Bernie Sanders, with the websites of Clinton, Cruz and John Kasich trailing far behind. 

The debates have been viewed by tens of millions of people this cycle, a large spike from past years. 

The website plugs are a sign of the increasing power of the Internet in U.S. elections, but it's unclear how effective they are.

Sanders raised $1 million in the four hours after the first debate, where he twice mentioned his website. But Sanders has proven to be a fundraising juggernaut even without the website plugs.

In February, Pew Research found that 20 percent of people had received election news from a candidate’s website or emails in the past week. But only 1 percent described a candidate’s website as the most helpful source of information. 

Here's how often candidates have told debate viewers to check out their websites:

 

Democrats:

Bernie Sanders 8

Martin O’Malley 5

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' MORE 4

Lincoln Chafee 1

 

Republicans:

Ted Cruz 12

Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPompeo: Countries must 'step up,' provide 'transparent' coronavirus information to save lives China did not count coronavirus positives if patient had no symptoms: report Trump seeks to sell public on his coronavirus response MORE 8

Ben Carson 4

Jeb Bush 3

John Kasich 1

 

Luke Barr, Jennevieve Fong, and Haley Britzky contributed.