This article addresses the alleged rollback of democracy by looking at the development of political cultures and the quality of democracy at the institutional level in three groups of European countries: longstanding democracies of western Europe, the first third-wave countries (Portugal, Spain and Greece) and the new democracies of the 1990s in central and eastern Europe. Political culture and political structures are examined by bringing in two aspects: the actual performance of democracy and the normative foundations of the democratic order. Pulling in a range of empirical evidence – comparative population surveys, macro-level data on the quality of democracy and contextual factors – the findings show that the normative foundations of democracy have not been negatively affected over the last decade, either in terms of political culture or with regard to political structures. In contrast, performance-related measures of democratic practice and subsequent support for democracy reveal significant negative developments. Thus, if there is a rollback of democracy it is in its practice, not in its normative foundations. However, the alarm is set: Europe cannot afford a continuing performance crisis if it wants to avoid a legitimacy deficit of democracy that goes beyond dissatisfaction with performance to eroding the support for the normative base of democracy.