Its too easy to sit back and be anti-Bush and just say Americans are dumb and that's why Bush won the popular vote. So I'm going to attempt to give a number of reasons, without a lot of detail, why contrary to what popular logic dictates Bush won the popular vote. Bear in mind this isn't an exhaustive list.
Why Bush won the popular vote:
(1) Fear. Most Americans don't know who attacked them on 9/11. Al Quada, Iraq, Afghanistan? What's the difference? To them its all some non-white, brownish looking people with funny headgear who live somewhere outside America and may have some oil. Hell even Puerto Ricans are suspect these days. Bush has done a good job of using this confusion to his advantage. So what if Kerry says Iraq isn't Al Quada or there are no WMD's. All the average citizen knows is that someone attacked America and they should pay and that's what they think Bush is doing; making it safer for Americans.
(2) Bush is a maverick. He went against the wishes of the UN, he went against what all the poindexter dudes in suits and the hippies were saying about peace and he is kicking ass and taking names. Watch any good American action movies lately? Americans love the misunderstood, often criticized action hero who charges in to beat up the bad guys and save the city/town/girl/family, save somebody from evil intentions. In this election Bush is that maverick and heck he's even from Texas so he's a good ol boy. He's John Wayne with rocket launchers.
(3) Bush is opposed to gay marriages. What is less known is hey so is Kerry but the Republicans have instilled into the populace that if Kerry is president gay marriages will be legalized and the whole country will become 'girly-man' capital. A vote for Kerry was a vote against the bible was apparently the slogan in some states. Good God-Fearing Americans cant let those liberal hippie dudes do that to their country.
(4) Stem Cell Research. I really don't know much about this one but seems like the Republicans did a good job of making this an issue
(5) Bush's propaganda machine was better oiled and ran smoother than Kerry's.
(6) In a climate where soldiers were dying daily, fear of terror attack was high, jobs were being outsourced, the economy was doing poorly and basically anything negative that could happen was happening to the powers in the White House. Kerry just played too timid and didn't attack the incumbent well enough. Kerry just hasn't made an overwhelming case for himself so better the hard-nosed devil you know that the so called flip-flopping one you don't right?
(7) Sadly Bush is the more charismatic of the choices or rather Kerry is the least charismatic of the two. While we would hope that persons pay more attention to issues than the actual leader's charisma or charm alas that's not the way it goes.
Its more complex that the few reasons I've listed but I just thought of these few ideas as to why Bush might have won the popular vote. Maybe Americans are stupid, maybe they are silly, maybe they don't know the real issues but I think they can still rationalize why they voted en masse for Bush.