Despite repeated appointments of technocratic governments in Europe and increasing interest in technocracy, there is little knowledge regarding citizens’ attitudes towards technocracy and the idea of governance by unelected experts. This article revisits normative debates and hypothesises that technocracy and democracy stand in a negative relationship in the eyes of European citizens. It tests this alongside a series of hypotheses on technocratic attitudes combining country-level institutional characteristics with individual survey data. While findings confirm that individual beliefs about the merits of democracy influence technocratic attitudes, two additional important factors are also identified: first, levels of trust in current representative political institutions also motivate technocratic preferences; second, historical legacies, in terms of past party-based authoritarian regime experience, can explain significant cross-national variation. The implications of the findings are discussed in the broader context of citizen orientations towards government, elitism and the mounting challenges facing representative democracy.