The analysis of diffusion processes is an expanding field of research in the social and economic sciences. However, prolific scholarship has highlighted the transnational diffusion of policy innovations, but the insights provided – at least for policies – are limited by a ‘democracy bias’, that is, the focus of most studies is on democracies. This limitation concerns both the empirical scope of most diffusion studies and their theoretical underpinning. Furthermore, the emphasis placed on the diffusion mechanisms has hindered the development of conceptual frameworks that systematically account for political regime characteristics and their role for policy diffusion. To take a first step towards reducing this gap, we propose an alternative conceptual framework. It builds on the existing literature on policy diffusion, but shifts the perspective from the international to the national context. In the subsequent discussion we put forward a theoretical framework that explicitly accounts for the role of political regime types in policy diffusion and shifts the analytical focus from mechanisms to ‘routes’ of diffusion.