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Many countries today appoint their governments on the basis of competitive elections but fall short with respect to other properties of liberal democracy. Such regimes can be classified in a conceptual typology based on a hierarchical distinction between electoral rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law. Empirical realities provide an almost perfect match with this hierarchy as high respect for the rule of law hardly ever exists without high respect for civil liberties, which almost never exists without high respect for electoral rights. This finding questions the potential of an ‘authoritarian’ pathway to liberal democracy which privileges the rule of law over electoral rights.