This piece examines the substance of EU democracy promotion from a comparative point of view and from a perspective placing under inquiry the meaning of the idea of liberal democracy itself. Instead of assuming that the democratic ideal that the EU promotes (‘liberal democracy’) has a clear, fixed meaning, the article examines in detail what actually constitutes the ‘ideal of democracy’ at the heart of EU democracy promotion, and compares this vision to that which informs the democracy promotion of the US. It argues that interesting differences, and shifts and oscillations, in the models of liberal democracy that the EU and the US promote exist and that these are important to note in order for us to fully appreciate how the substance of EU and US democracy support can be shaped by conceptual and ideological debate on the meaning of democracy. This dynamic is particularly relevant today, in the context of the recent attempts to develop transatlantic dialogue on democracy support. This dialogue, it is suggested, plasters over some subtle but important ideological cracks over what is meant by democracy in EU and US democracy support.