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 CruzCruz calls for 'every penny' of El Chapo's criminal enterprise to be used for Trump's wall after sentencing Conservatives defend Chris Pratt for wearing 'Don't Tread On Me' T-shirt Google official denies allegations of ties to China MORE has done it the most on the Republican side – 12 times. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' 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 TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis 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 ClintonHillary Clinton slams Trump rally: 'The time has come again' to fight for democracy Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' The Memo: Democrats debate Trump response – 'Being righteous and losing sucks' MORE 4

Lincoln Chafee 1

 

Republicans:

Ted Cruz 12

Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump may intervene in Pentagon cloud-computing contract: report Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US Colombian official urges more help for Venezuelan migrants MORE 8

Ben Carson 4

Jeb Bush 3

John Kasich 1

 

Luke Barr, Jennevieve Fong, and Haley Britzky contributed.