"The proportion of people in South Africa's eight major metro areas who feel that the government is not spending taxpayers' money well is 47%," research company TNS's spokesperson Neil Higgs said in a statement.
"A third feel that the money is being spent well and 19% (a relatively high figure) gave a 'don't know' response."
The survey of 2 000 metropolitan residents found that differences by race were common when examining views on this type of topic.
About 37% of black taxpayers, 68% of whites, 63% of coloureds and 69% of Indians felt the money was not being spent well.
There was also a difference in areas.
"The poorest perceptions are held in Port Elizabeth, the Vaal Triangle/South Rand and Cape Town, with the best perceptions occurring in East London, Durban, Bloemfontein and the East and West Rand," said Higgs.
The survey found that older people were more critical, with 60% of people over the age of 50 being unhappy with the situation. Of those aged 34 and younger only 42% were unhappy.
"Also partly correlated with wealth, wealthier people are much more critical - 67% of the top bracket are unhappy compared with 35% of poorer people," said Higgs.
"Unhappiness with the health and education systems and with service delivery was also evident."