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 CruzO'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left Dem strategist says South Carolina will be first 'real test' for O'Rourke MSNBC's Scarborough hits O'Rourke on his message: 'It's all goop' MORE has done it the most on the Republican side – 12 times. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWarren calls for abolishing Electoral College Biden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters 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 TrumpWarren: 'White supremacists pose a threat to the United States like any other terrorist group' National Enquirer paid 0,000 for Bezos texts: report Santorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting 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 ClintonOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left Dem strategist says South Carolina will be first 'real test' for O'Rourke MORE 4

Lincoln Chafee 1

 

Republicans:

Ted Cruz 12

Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE 8

Ben Carson 4

Jeb Bush 3

John Kasich 1

 

Luke Barr, Jennevieve Fong, and Haley Britzky contributed.