Okay, this is a boring subject for many (including me), but it will affect your characters deeply. What sort of government does your setting have? Is it a kingdom, with a ruler whose word is law, or does it operate more democratically? In election years, people tend to think about how each candidate’s position will affect them directly. If something doesn’t affect them, then it falls out of mind.
If Roland Deschain tells you to do something, you’d be wise to do it!
Local politics may directly influence your setting, i.e. city council members who decide to let a huge corporation rip up a landmark to build something the town neither needs nor wants. National or international events can affect it too. Here’s another example of a direct effect. Let’s say your town is located near a nuclear weapons storage facility. That makes it a target. No one likes to think about this, but what if there is a war and someone decides they want to take out that target? If they do, of course, your population will die, but their efforts to prevent this from occurring could make a good conflict.
Or the rocket could miss them and set off another chain of events. Maybe they could band together to defend the site and end the war.
Of course, your government will try to protect the target area. It has to–that’s its job. Most likely, it will have a military presence, and heavy restrictions will surround the missile sites. Normal rules of engagement—checkpoints, gates, polite inquiry—may not apply.
Of course, your characters could run afoul of these regulations, either in defense of the target, or in pursuit of it, whichever side you decide to put them on. That’s up to you. Even more fun–have your government fall and no one is protecting it. What could happen then?
An indirect effect could happen when politics or events cause repercussions in your little world, though nothing actually happens due to them. After 9/11, the U.S. government became a wellspring of paranoia and many people traveling on completely legitimate business found themselves pulled out of security lines for all kinds of ridiculous reasons. (Still do, in fact.) Even in very small airports, far from the attack sites, you have security protocols. Suppose your character runs afoul of them, while your villain breezes right through? What if your villain set your protag up?
A similar scenario could take place no matter where your story is located–it doesn’t have to be post-9/11 United States.
Even the local stuff can have high stakes. In Stephen King’s Under the Dome, selectman and all-around horrible guy Big Jim Rennie’s influence in Chester’s Mill spirals dangerously out of control when the dome slams down over the town and traps everyone. Who in your story could or would take advantage if a situation enabling him/her presented itself? Who would oppose them, and how?
Anyway, you get the idea, right? Good, because I’m tired and I don’t want to finish this post. So I will bid you a fond adieu. Until tomorrow!